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VCU receives $8.8M to support employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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By Brian McNeill

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine with a joint appointment in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, received two five-year $4.4 million awards from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

“These two major research grants will provide synergy for VCU to be the predominant leader in the United States in the area of employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities,” said Wehman, who is also director of a VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities as well as director of the VCU Autism Center for Excellence.

The first award, “Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD),” involves a consortium of researchers at VCU, as well as Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State University, and includes six multiphase studies that will examine the effectiveness of different evidence-based interventions to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in competitive employment. The goal is to help reduce the continuing high levels of unemployment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of these studies will be conducted in partnership with Dominion Energy in the Richmond area, enrolling individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities into different jobs and seeking the best strategies for recruitment, training, job placement and retention. The new center will work closely with the Dominion Energy DiverseAbility Employee Resource Group.

The second award, “Transition to Employment for Youth with Disabilities,” will also involve research at VCU, Vanderbilt, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State. It will focus on pre-employment training for younger adolescents, postsecondary and supported college education training for universities that are serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as internships for youth with emotional, learning and behavioral disorders.

One of these studies, to be conducted at VCU, will investigate the effectiveness of an internship program called Start on Success that incorporates a career and technical education course followed by paid work experiences for high school students with psychiatric or learning disabilities. The focus of the program is to keep students at risk of dropping out to remain in school and graduate.

“We congratulate Dr. Wehman and his team for this exciting work and grant award. This research will address a critical need for our society — the employment of those with disabilities and build the diversity of our workforce,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs.

Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, said the school is excited about Wehman’s work and the work of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

“RRTC is a critically important center in the School of Education and its impact puts into practice our vision to be a leader in responsive, needs-driven and research-based educational practices that transform the lives of those we serve in our communities, especially those who have been historically marginalized,” Daire said.

Both awards are Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grants that fund coordinated, integrated and advanced programs of research, training and information dissemination in topical areas specified by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. These centers conduct research to improve rehabilitation methodology and service delivery systems; improve health and functioning; and promote employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Wehman is the founding editor of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. His background is highly interdisciplinary and he is internationally known for his pioneering work in the beginning of supported employment in 1980, a rehabilitation intervention strategy that has helped millions of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness and spinal cord injury in countries around the world to gain competitive employment for the first time.

“Dr. Wehman is a preeminent researcher in this field who has built the foundations of supported employment more than a quarter century ago and we are excited about how he is moving the field forward,” said David Cifu, M.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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Health Innovation Consortium, Lighthouse Labs partner on health-focused startup accelerator

Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

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Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

Founding partners Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health, and Activation Capital, launched HIC in 2019 to help bring health innovations to market. HIC and Lighthouse Labs will leverage the new accelerator this fall to cultivate a pipeline of health-related technologies through a three-month immersive learning experience, capital opportunities, and potential for funding.

Making the Commonwealth’s only health-focused accelerator program possible is Activation Capital, a nonprofit organization that focuses on early-stage ideas to foster the area’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. A grant by Activation Capital to Lighthouse Labs, along with the contributions of HIC, will support the health-focused programming by Lighthouse Labs in addition to VCU’s efforts to develop new innovations in healthcare.

The new initiative, including expertise, grants, and funding by Health Innovation Consortium, will be offered alongside an industry-agnostic vertical that will also operate as part of the 2020 fall cohort by Lighthouse Labs. Selected companies in both verticals will participate in the accelerator from August 24 to November 13, 2020, in Richmond. During the fall program, the health-focused startups and the industry-agnostic companies selected will work with top-tier mentors as they participate in targeted and adaptive programs.

“Health systems, particularly academic health systems like VCU, are looking for innovative solutions involving every aspect of health care—its delivery to consumers, its technology, and its business models,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., interim CEO, VCU Health System, and interim senior vice president, VCU Health Sciences. “The Health Innovation Consortium was designed to facilitate, support, and scale health innovation. By partnering with Lighthouse Labs, a nationally ranked start-up accelerator, we have the opportunity to attract and engage with the most promising new technologies in the country that can improve the health of our community.”

The companies selected to participate in the health-focused accelerator will use the three-month programming as a springboard to develop digital health and medical device technologies, amongst others. Founders participating in the fall cohort will also have an opportunity to tap into HIC resources, including access to an exclusive network of industry experts, early-stage venture funding, and support, after the cohort has ended.

In addition to equity-free funding, programming, and mentorship, all selected companies will have access to $1 million in advisory services and benefits from partners such as Global Accelerator Network (GAN), Kaleo Legal, Startup Virginia, and other service providers. In addition, companies accepted will participate in Demo Day(s) designed to demonstrate each selected startup to investors, alumni groups, potential customers, and peers.

“Innovation is needed now more than ever,” said Erin Powell, executive director of Lighthouse Labs. “The fall cohort by Health Innovation Consortium and Lighthouse Labs will provide traction for the most promising, high-potential startups to begin making an immediate impact in health-related industries.”

“Beyond the three-month immersive experience this fall, the post-program opportunities, and access to the Health Innovation Consortium network and connection to capital, makes this new offering the most transformative platform for those who have identified the biggest challenges in human health and healthcare and are ready to accelerate quickly to provide solutions,” said Powell.

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Downtown

Daily Planet converts recently purchased building into COVID Assessment Center

“COVID-19 disproportionately impacts medically underserved populations,” said Dr. Patricia Cook, Chief Medical Officer of Daily Planet Health Services. “Our COVID response was created to meet these patients at their point of entry – in a shelter, a local emergency department, or our COVID Assessment Center – and then provide them a safe place to recover.”

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Just one month after purchasing a new property at 511 W Grace St., Daily Planet Health Services (DPHS) retrofitted the space into a COVID-19 Assessment Center. When the deal was being finalized in February, DPHS officials were closely monitoring World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and VDH reports. As the pandemic rapidly evolved, it became clear that to best serve the Richmond community, the nonprofit would need to utilize the facility to test symptomatic patients.

With a focus on assessing medically underserved and at-risk populations, including those who are uninsured or experiencing homelessness, DPHS began COVID testing in mid-March. DPHS has worked closely with members of the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care (GRCoC) and VDH to coordinate a comprehensive COVID-19 response to provide safe shelter and food security to people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. DPHS has now tested more than 300 patients.

“COVID-19 disproportionately impacts medically underserved populations,” said Dr. Patricia Cook, Chief Medical Officer of Daily Planet Health Services. “Our COVID response was created to meet these patients at their point of entry – in a shelter, a local emergency department, or our COVID Assessment Center – and then provide them a safe place to recover.”

DPHS works with members of the GRCoC to provide remote medical monitoring, temporary accommodations, and food while patients recover.

“The COVID19 Public Health Emergency has strengthened our ties with community partners and created new pathways to wrap care around medically underserved individuals. We have travelled to community shelters and created tent-based testing sites. We also have created temporary primary care clinics in shelters and established computer portal stations within them to accommodate televisits. After the pandemic, we will continue to build on these relationships to provide comprehensive health services to patients experiencing homelessness,” Dr. Cook continued.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, DPHS has provided behavioral health and addiction treatment services via televists to keep patients and staff safe from infection, and has continued to staff two locations for non-COVID related face-to-face primary care and dental emergencies. This allows patients to continue to access the comprehensive services they are accustomed to at DPHS despite the COVID19 pandemic.

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Mayor Stoney joins 40 other U.S. mayors to urge Congress to temporarily Increase SNAP benefits

Led by Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA and Mayor Betsy Price of Ft. Worth, TX, these local leaders are asking for a 15 percent increase to all household SNAP benefits and an increase to the minimum SNAP benefit, bringing it from $16 to $30, in the next coronavirus relief package.

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This week, a bipartisan group of 40 mayors from cities and towns across the country signed a letter to Congress urging federal lawmakers to temporarily increase benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Led by Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA and Mayor Betsy Price of Ft. Worth, TX, these local leaders are asking for a 15 percent increase to all household SNAP benefits and an increase to the minimum SNAP benefit, bringing it from $16 to $30, in the next coronavirus relief package.

“No child in Richmond or any city around the country deserves to spend one day hungry,” says Richmond, VA Mayor Levar Stoney. “In the face of a global pandemic, this country will be defined by whether it chooses to stand behind hardworking families or decides to abandon them in a time of unprecedented need. We call on Congress to do the right thing – fight poverty, protect our children.”

Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 kids in the United States faced hunger; this year, that number may grow to 1 in 4. SNAP is critical to ensuring children and families have an option to safely access food during these uncertain times. Benefits are used to buy groceries, helping to make room in budgets for other basic needs, like diapers and medicine.

“Communities need access to every tool available to fight hunger during this crisis,” says Jordan Bailey, state policy counsel at Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “SNAP is not only a safe and effective way to feed children, it’s also shown to stimulate the economy. Increasing benefits and strengthening the program will provide immediate relief for families in need and will help our nation as it recovers from this crisis.”

SNAP is also one of our nation’s fastest, most effective tools to stimulate local economies. Benefits spent at local grocery stores and markets leads to more jobs, wages and local economic activity in the community.

While other stimulus programs put dollars in pockets, the vast majority of families spend their benefits before the month ends, making SNAP one of our nation’s highest returns on investment.

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